my boss puts incompetent coworker in charge when he’s away, explaining what I’ve done since my layoff, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss keeps putting my incompetent coworker in charge when he’s away

I have a situation at work. A less than competent person was hired for a job that is my same grade. I have 10 years experience and have been in this “grade” longer than she has. She is not the sharpest bulb.

I have been with the organization for over 20 years. In my previous positions, the acting chief of the office was the senior employee in that area. I am that senior employee, but the boss keeps making the incompetent, newly appointed person in charge when he is out of the office. I am completely irritated. Not only do I deserve that when he is away, but I also have taken a lot of leadership classes and should be allowed to blossom. I am irritated with the supervisor and have some discontent toward the person that was hired. I know it is not her fault … but really, putting someone in charge who cannot even do her job or knows the office well enough?

I have in the past tried saying something and his reasoning was that she was in a position title like his. I dont see that as good enough justification. How do I address this so I don’t come off unprofessionally? Or do I just consider this a blessing that I will not have to deal with things when they come up that require decisions? Could be a blessing or a curse :)

Well, first, realize that your manager might have legitimate reasons for making this choice. He might think your coworker is genuinely better equipped to run the department when he’s away, or he might have concerns about putting you in charge, totally separate from the question of your coworker. I’m not a fan of making these sorts of decisions by seniority anyway.

But you can certainly talk to your manager and find out if there’s a reason you’re not being considered for this. Don’t frame it as being entitled the role because of seniority or as being entitled to put your leadership classes to use; that’s overly adversarial and also not in sync with how these decisions are made. Instead, say something like this: “I’ve noticed you’ve asked Jane to run the office when you’re out. That’s a responsibility I’m interested in taking on, and which I think I’d be good at because of ___. Is that something you’d consider in the future?” If you get any answer other than a clear yes, then ask what you could do to change that in the future — are there skills he wants you to work on first? Concerns about your performance that that two of you should address?

Make it about how you can get considered for the role, not about whether your coworker deserves it or not.

2. A job candidate’s desired salary is far outside our posted range

I’m leading the hiring for a position at my organization. One applicant, who seems qualified for this position, wrote in her cover letter that her salary requirements are in the range of $55-60k, which is between $10-20k higher than was clearly listed in the job announcement. Should I interview her anyway and address this further along in the interview process? Or should I just address this before moving forward with the interview process?

If she would otherwise be someone you’d be very interested in, you could certainly email her and point out the listed salary is lower than what she put in her cover letter and ask if the range you posted is prohibitive for her, and then decide. But I’d be on the watch for other attention to detail issues, since she appears to have totally missed a pretty important detail in your ad. (I’m assuming that she didn’t acknowledge the discrepancy in some way.)

Either way, I wouldn’t move forward with her without clarifying this, since you don’t want to waste your time or hers if you’re too far apart on salary.

3. Employer offered me one interview time, but then confirmed another

I have an internship interview scheduled and I have the following issue: When we were arranging the schedule for the interview, the recruiter sent me an email asking me “what about 4 PM?” at a certain day, and then, after responding that the time works for me, she sent me a calendar invitation for 1 PM. Now, what would you say? Should I come at 1 PM or 4 PM? I don’t want to come early and annoy them or anything, but I think coming late would be worse.

You shouldn’t guess! If this happened to you in any other context, you’d probably email back to clarify, right? That’s exactly what you should do here too — there’s no special interview rule that requires that you not ask normal questions when something is unclear. So in this case, that means that you should email right back and say, “Thanks so much. I noticed you wrote 1 p.m. below rather than 4 p.m. I can do either time, but want to make sure that I’m confirming the correct one.”

4. Explaining what I’ve been doing since getting laid off

So I recently had a phone screening, which I thought went well, but I got the expected question of “What have you been doing in the meantime since your position ended in January?” My answer: I’ve used various software on my own machine to maintain my skills, attended various conferences recently to maintain awareness about the Industry. I also mentioned how I have been aggressively applying for jobs (even with several interviews, albeit no offers). I also mentioned how I’m about to begin my seasonal work (mostly summers), which I’ve had for several years in the meantime.

I understand why managers ask that, and am fine with that, but was what I said fine? I tried to be as honest as I could in the question.

I’d leave out the part of aggressively job searching in the future. Interviewers who ask this question are looking for answers like volunteering, taking a class, learning a new skill, working in your community — something that’s going to make you a more valuable employee when you return to work. Also, rightly or wrongly, talking about an aggressive job search risks coming across as a little desperate and like you might take ANY job, rather than specifically being interested in this one. (If it helps, imagine a date telling you that she’s been aggressively looking for a relationship; it would be a turn-off for similar reasons, even though I realize the context isn’t a perfect parallel.)

5. Etiquette books

You’ve quoted Miss Manners in past columns, and you mentioned here that you collect etiquette books old and new. Would you mind sharing even a partial list!? I’d love to hear which ones you have and which are your favorite!

I mainly collect the old ones — I love reading about old-timey etiquette and social rules. (For example, from Emily Post’s 1937 Etiquette: “Past midnight is too late for a well-bred young woman — even two together — to be leaving bachelor flats.” Also: “A house suit is distinctly what the name implies, and is never worn out except at the smallest family dinner or when receiving intimate friends at home. The accessories are a silk or cheviot unstarched soft shirt, with turndown stiff collar, or even with a soft collar attached — white of course — and a black bow-tie … The silk house suit must not be confused with the velvet jacket that has no trousers to match and is typical of studios and Bohemian quarters.”)

Currently my bookshelf includes:
Emily Post’s Etiquette, 1937
Amy Venderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette, 1959
Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts, 1949
Manners Made Easy, 1949 (This looks like it was a textbook for junior high schools. Sample: “A girl may suggest while dancing that they stop for some punch or to rest, but it is considered poor form for a boy to do so. No matter how poor a dancer she may be, he must somehow manage to remain on the floor until the music stops.”)
Etiquette: An Encyclopedia of Good Manners and Social Usage, by Gabrielle Rosiere, 1923
Foods and Homemaking, by Carlotta Greer, 1937
The New Book of Etiquette, by Lillian Eichler, 1926

For a more modern take, I really like Judith Martin’s Miss Manners books, especially Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior.

{ 246 comments… read them below }

  1. Carolum*

    #1 – Would it hurt to discuss why you’re not sure of your co-worker’s ability to do the job? Why not raise some concerns about their performance?

    1. KJ*

      I would be very, very careful about doing this. It would be very easy to come off as not being supportive of the acting person-in-charge, and as a manager, I would expect the rest of my team to show the acting person-in-charge the same respect that they would show me.

      What I might do is use the old “I’d appreciate your guidance on how to handle this situation in the future” trick. As in, “Boss, I overheard Incompetent Coworker A making this mistake in the future. It didn’t seem like the way you would want that done, but I didn’t want to contradict them while they were in charge. How would be the best way to handle it if that happened again in the future?”

        1. Angora*

          Be careful … you complain about another’s work performance … you may be told to do it from now on.

          I had that happen to me when I had a co-worker that thought she was too good to do travel reimbursements. (licensed CPA) hired in a job way overqualified for …..

          pain in the rump to work with … she screwed up every travel reimbursement she did; she was supposed to give them to me to verify before out boss signed them. she bypassed me; stuck them in his box so he assumed they were correct ….they weren’t. And when I told him she wasn’t following procedures and making a lot of mistakes I got stuck doing all of them. Period . . . . which is what she wanted. Manipulated us both.

          1. CC*

            I wonder how an employee who deliberately screws up a task so that their boss assigns it to somebody else could possibly remain hired.

            I mean, you have to do the parts of your job that are boring, too.

            1. Jazzy Red*

              Oh, gosh, CC, I’ve seen this happen more times than I can count. People who are manipulators are usually experts at that, and they get away with murder at work. They know just how to read people and what to say/do to get what they want. They usually befriend the higher ups, so that anyone who criticized them is not believed.

              Normal decent people understand that they have to do all the elements of their jobs, and we do the boring work without too much complaint.

              1. Angora*

                I have learned from this one. If I see it happening, someone cannot do a routine task correctly. Make an appointment with them via outlook (so it’s documented) to have one-on-one training regarding said task. Than if they screw it up again either due to lack of attention or hoping that I’ll take the responsibility away from them; do a sit down with them regarding this concern and have them sign a form. That way I have a document trail and forget mentioning to my boss ever again. Unless I am 100% sure my boss has my back; I’ll keep my mouth shut. He liked hiring student’s wifes regardless of the fact that they have no background working in higher education or supporting faculty in an administrative capacity. I hated it; because we would have them for only a couple of years; and many times they had master’s etc and were doing administrative jobs; so the petty stuff the rest of us acceptable as part of the role they resented. When we did the interviews I didn’t want her because she was a CPA. She needed a job and wanted the state benefits; but she was not experienced in graduate program support. She as the devil to work with.

            1. Allison*

              It’s by no means limited to the workplace, and not uncommon for people to intentionally half-ass household chores so someone else will insist on picking them up.

          2. HappyLurker*

            “which is what she wanted. Manipulated us both.”

            Wow. Some things are just suddenly so clear. Here I was thinking pure laziness…Now I can see something in a different way.
            I love AAM!

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think you can do one or the other, but not both — at least not both in close proximity to each other. If you ask to be left in charge and then complain about the person who is (or vice versa), you risk looking like your desire for the role is biasing your assessment of the coworker.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        I also feel like focusing on the coworker is much trickier, not just because it comes across better to talk yourself up than talk someone else down, but don’t forget that the boss is choosing this person for SOME reason, and if you question that too much the boss may take offense at you questioning their judgment. It’s safer just to say why you are well-suited for it.

        1. Kelly O*

          I do tend to agree with this point of view. You don’t want to frame it as “my coworker is incompetent” but more “what would I need to do to get to that level” – it can sound like sour grapes or just complaining for the sake of complaining fairly quickly.

    3. EngineerGirl*

      I see a strong sense of entitlement due to seniority and also leadership classes. But neither seniority nor classes makes someone a good leader. The entitlement makes me question if the other person really is incompetent. OP, is your seething jealousy blinding you to the abilities of the other person? You are also acting unprofessionally by demanding justification from your boss for the leadership decisions. In short, your anger and entitlement are disqualifying you from taking a leadership position. You need to drop it if you want to have a meaningful discussion with your boss and move forward.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        +1. Based just on what I’ve seen from this message, I wouldn’t choose OP to be my backup while I’m out. No real examples given on how leadership is demonstrated other than seniority and classes.

        Those who are the greatest leaders don’t talk about it. They just demonstrate it.

        1. majigail*

          I’d also encourage the OP to take a look at her relationships with other members of the staff. If they are strained, that may be a reason that she’s not in charge when the boss is away.

          1. Angora*

            majigail: I agree with you. If this individual is not a “team player” than they will not be a supervisor’s choice as back-up. Another thing is how much help is this individual with new hires. I know of people that are terrible trainers and because they are not willing to train their direct reports properly or hoard information; they’ll never be considered for a supervisory role.

          2. Nichole*

            Yes, I also agree that this may be a concern. I’ve had coworkers that I liked just fine on a personal level, but I was grateful when they weren’t left in charge, largely because of statements similar to the ones in this letter. It gives the impression that the appearance of power is more important than making sure the office runs smoothly. This is especially true if Incompetent Co-Worker hasn’t made any major mistakes while in charge. Why’s it so important to rock the boat now? Whether OP is on a power trip or not (can’t really tell from the letter), the appearance of one may cost them the backing of their coworkers on this.

      2. FiveNine*

        That might be harsh — it’s a letter to AAM and not a rant in the office to the boss or the colleague, and, how would anyone qualified (even you?) feel about not receiving the same respect and treatment the office has apparently observed in the past with its lines of reporting and authority? Honestly, your own response has a tone that you yourself might not like to see judged so.

        1. EngineerGirl*

          You can be disappointed and even angry. The problem is the entitlement:

          I am completely irritated. Not only do I deserve that

          The entitlement is keeping the OP from having a deep discussion with the boss. The OP is so busy defending their position that they aren’t asking the questions such as “what did I do wrong?” “what can I do differently?”
          The OP is totally focused on the incompetence of the other person instead of asking what they need to do to get to the next step.

      3. Mike C*

        Yeah I can’t imagine why someone who’s put in the time and followed the normal path to higher positions being sidelined by unknown rules and standards for someone that doesn’t know how to do that job might be upset about it.

        1. BCW*

          I think the problem is the OP is using words like incompetent without giving any examples, so its hard for it not to just sound like sour grapes. Plus, as has been noted often, being good at your job, doesn’t mean you are automatically good at managing others. Just because she has been there the longest really doesn’t mean she is the best person to run the department in her managers absence.

          1. Mike C.*

            I feel like any examples would have been nitpicked to death because wanting something better for yourself after working hard is the definition of entitlement for some.

            And heave forbid that you express that in a letter! Because for those same people, anything you write down in a letter is a complete and direct reflection of how you carry yourself in a public, professional environment. Because we’re all apparently Sookie Stackhouse and we can read the innermost thoughts of someone else just be passing close by.

            It’s just annoying.

            1. fposte*

              But I also think it’s worth noting when the OP seems to be taking an approach that would put her at risk if continued in her workplace, and to suggest more effective ones.

              1. Mike C.*

                Suggesting more effective tactics is great, and I’m really for that. The personal criticism of “entitlement” is not, nor is conflating what is said in a letter with actions taken in a professional environment.

                1. Tinker*

                  I think you’re both correct — giving feedback about someone’s overall approach can be useful, but sometimes it seems like that gets overshadowed by a tendency to leap to negative judgments about the OP’s global personality traits. I think that latter bit could do to be contained.

                  Particularly, I think the world would overall be a better place if the concept of “entitlement” died in a fire — it strikes me as a terribly pessimistic concept that tends toward a zero-sum model of the world and slapping down instead of shaping a desire for better things. That it seems to be so closely associated with discussions of work strikes me as highly unfortunate.

                2. fposte*

                  I would agree that whether people find an OP likeable or not seems to carry disproportionate weight at times, and that when you have several people commenting on any perceived deficit there that ends up being a pile-on whether people realize it or not.

                3. Yogi Josephina*

                  I tend to agree with this. I find that a lot of commentators on here are very quick to use the word entitlement, and not always in the correct way. I feel like the definition is fairly simple. Entitlement: feeling you’re owed something that you haven’t earned. Deserving: feeling you’re owed something that you’ve specifically worked and paid your dues for.

                  It seems nowadays that anytime someone puts in time and effort to earn something and then is upset they didn’t get it is called “entitled.” I don’t really understand that knee-jerk response.

                4. fposte*

                  I suspect it might just be the adult version of that childhood favorite, “You think you’re so big.”

                5. Not So NewReader*

                  Years ago, the magic bullet to solve all problems was the label: “a failure to communicate”.
                  Now we have “entitlement”.
                  These things get to be a way of pushing an issue to one side and doing nothing.
                  Just because we have put a name tag on the problem does not mean we have solved it. Matter of fact, in some ways casting generalities about makes a situation even worse.

                6. EngineerGirl*

                  YogiJosephina – your definition of entitlement is incorrect. Webster defines entitlement as “the fact of having a right to something”. There is nothing unearned about it. We are entitled to our salaries, for example.
                  But in this case the manager never made a promise that the OP could have the leadership position if they took classes and were the most senior person. There was no implied contract so in fact there is no right to the leadership position.

        2. GrumpyBoss*

          In fairness, if that’s how the OP had stated it, I don’t think some of us would feel critical. But instead, based only on the letter, the OP does seem to feel that they are owed this and doesn’t seem to consider that there may be valid reasons. Her boss did tell her his reasoning about title, which would have been a perfect opportunity to ask, “I felt that was the career path I was heading down. Can you help me identify what I need to develop/change so you’d consider me in the future?” Instead, the OP seems to dismiss his reasoning and goes back to the seniority line of reasoning.

          She has every right to be upset, but the way she is positioning it isn’t going to get her the results that she wants.

          1. GigglyPuff*

            Exactly, I’ve noticed letters like this, usually are followed up by examples of how they are “incompetent”, this one just states that without reasoning.

          2. Amanda*

            Precisely. It’s the entitlement in the way it’s being presented that is problematic to me, and I do wonder if that attitude comes across in the OP’s work life.

            1. GrumpyBoss*

              Then even more the pity that this is the way she chose to present her situation to people while asking for advice.

    4. Artemesia*

      A boss who is overlooking a long time employee for a newbie for responsibility has probably some concerns about the long time employee in that role. The OP indicated she is irritated about this; I’ll bet it shows. I think Alison’s advice was spot on here; the focus should be on what SHE can do not on tearing down another employee. Even if the boss is dazzled by cute new employee and doesn’t notice she is ‘incompetent’, he is not likely to take kindly to questioning his choice and criticism in this case comes across as entitled and whiny. I think it is okay to mention the leadership class and wanting to build leadership skills but only in a context of ‘how can I be considered’ and ‘how can I serve’. This kind of approach might positively affect the boss’s impression or let him know that the OP wants to serve in this capacity and build her skills.

      I have had employees who felt they were unfairly passed over for things. In each case I had VERY strong reasons for my choices and felt the people who were not chosen who were convinced they were the best choice and entitled to the promotion or position would be a poor choice. Complaining about the person who was chosen would only have cemented my judgment; if they were the sort of people who were open to suggestions about how they could improve their performance, they probably would not have been passed over in the first place.

      1. manybellsdown*

        I was in a similar work situation, where *I* was the less-qualified employee who was left in charge. Originally, my boss had planned to leave both of us as a team running the place, but I pointed out we’d had difficulty with that in the past and it would probably work better to just leave one of us. My assumption was that she’d choose the older woman with more education than me. Instead, Boss put me in charge.

        From day 1, the other employee tried to undermine me. I’d make a decision and she’d immediately do the opposite. The job was in education, so she’d tell parents of students that I was responsible for things that were entirely her doing – and against my directions.

        It came to a head when I watched her repeatedly screw up something that could have had life or death consequences, and she refused to let anyone else help in any way. When Boss came back and got my report, she was encouraged to resign.

        I didn’t understand my boss’ reason for leaving me in charge over the other employee before. Afterwards, I had a pretty good idea of why she left the less-educated, less-experienced (but actually senior in that particular job) person in charge.

  2. Tmarie*

    #4 – It sounds like you’ve been keeping busy with work growth activities. I was laid off six months ago, and I’m afraid of that question because I haven’t been keeping busy with anything other than family since then.

    1. Question #4*

      I don’t know what field you are in, but certainly keep tabs as to what is going on the industry. Yeah, I’m fortunate that I don’t have to worry about my $$$ or family (recent college grad).

      Good luck with your search!

    2. en pointe*

      Not too late to start. You don’t know how long your job search will take, so you could look at doing some relevant things now, to help you manage questions like that and to help keep your skills fresh for when you do find something new. Good luck with the search.

      1. Artemesia*

        Even a couple of volunteer activities or one or two consulting gigs can help keep the resume fresh. Your examples show initiative and they don’t have to show that exactly 5% of your time has been engaged in those career development activities.

    3. Polaris*

      Don’t give up! There’s always something you can do and it is not too late to start. If you are pressed for time due to other obligations, can you set aside a few minutes each day to read news related to your industry? Can you make time to get to your local library and read a professional journal or two? Reading about the exciting things others were doing really helped to keep me motivated when I was looking for a new job. Good luck in your search!

  3. Sara M*

    Hi, there’s a typo in answer #1. “Talking on” should be “taking on”. The sentence is a bit confusing as written.

  4. Limenotapple*

    Not sure if #5 just meant US traditions, but I’d recommend the “Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands” series as well. It really helped me when I worked for a large international company.

  5. UK Anon*

    #1 – I may be misreading it, but it sounds like the new hire is of a similar grade to the manager (and yourself) Taking at face value what you say about her incompetence, it may be any number of reasons related to her and not you that she is being left in charge. 1) They promised her opportunities for growth when they hired her, 2) they are ultimately looking for a long term replacement for your manager and hope she might be it, 3) they think she’ll be really good in the role but want her to get some experience first, etc etc.

    If you are awesome at what you do, you can risk being asked to keep doing what you’re good at, especially where there is someone who they think will ultimately be a better long term fit for the role.

    Perhaps a better long term option for you is to be thoroughly supportive of the new hire and help her move on from her mistakes and learn from them; that shows a number of leaderships skills which hopefully will then be recognised by the highers up, and it potentially makes your job easier.

    1. eemmzz*

      +1 to this. It would be more effective to help mentor her (if any of her weaker points overlap with your skillsets) and demonstrate your good leadership qualities rather than assuming you’re entitled to these things due to having done a training course.

    2. Ruffingit*

      This is an excellent post because it offers some concrete suggestions for both handling the co-workers mistakes and also demonstrating the leadership skills the OP speaks of. So many people write in with “But this isn’t fair, whine, complain, bitter, complain…” and proceed to discuss the horror of the co-worker’s very existence. Here, we’ve got some solid suggestion for moving on from that mindset and demonstrating leadership. Great post!

  6. Corporate Attorney*

    I am also a collector of old etiquette books! Some times they are hilarious, but honestly, some times they are extremely wise on matters both small and great. I pull mine out frequently when I need to write “tough” letters (i.e., condolence note to a professional acquaintance on his father’s death, note to a friendly acquaintance on hearing of his job loss).

    1. ClaireS*

      I love that you still write notes for these things; not many people do anymore. But, having been a recipient of such notes, it’s such a nice feeling and leaves a really good impression (I hope you wrote happy notes too; congrats on the new job, etc).

      I’d like to start doing this but I sometimes worry that I don’t have enough respect (or age) in the industry to pull it off (I.e. Would people think it’s weird).

      1. Andrea*

        I write and send notes like this a lot. It’s sometimes difficult, especially if it’s a sympathy note following a death (and I’m an atheist, so I don’t use traditional religious messaging in these cases). But I’ve been the recipient of far too many cards that had a pre-printed message (sometimes irrelevant) and a signature, and that’s it. Why even bother at all? Anyway, I bring it up because I have sent notes on these occasions beginning at a young age and when I was new in my career. I don’t know that anyone ever thought it was weird; in fact, I know that many recipients really appreciated them because they said so. I think that if you want to send a sincere note, of thanks or sympathy or congratulations, similar to the ones that have meant something to you, then you should do it.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Claire, I actually think it will build respect and make people see you as mature beyond whatever your years are, partly because so often we think of note-writing as Not A Young Person’s Game. People will love it — you should do it.

        1. Kelly O*

          There is something to be said for a personal letter. It’s something I try very hard to stay on top of, because it’s unusual now. I used to love picking out stationery and making sure it looked appropriate for the occasion.

          (Full disclosure: I would have the full monogrammed stationery set right this second if it were not cost-prohibitive. Darn kid wanting food every single meal… )

          It really does make a difference, especially when people feel bombarded by all the “personal branding” and salesy things that go along with business. It’s nice to just get a letter to congratulate on a promotion or acknowledge a loss. It builds relationships in a way other things just don’t.

          1. Cath in Canada*

            I stopped sending personal letters after getting too many emails saying “hey, thanks for your letter! It was so nice to get a real letter again – it’s been ages! Hope you’re well”, and then not hearing from that person again for months. It was discouraging enough to outweigh the pleasure of nice stationery and a good fountain pen.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I love them too, but I tend to lean toward anything published before 1900. I have some hilarious stuff from back then. I have one that goes all the way through growing-up etiquette and through raising babies. And some old issues of The Delineator, a popular women’s magazine in the late 1800s.

      Cookbooks too–back in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, recipes were called “receipts,” and they didn’t have measurements because you were expected to know what you were doing! Though my Gold Medal Flour cookbook from 1910 does have them. It also has weird terms I never saw before–it took me several readings before I figured out what the hell “forcemeat” was. 0_0

      1. JoJo*

        I love my 1963 Joy Of Cooking. Nearly every recipe has butter, eggs, and fat. Cholesterol levels, bah!

      2. DeadQuoteOlympics*

        Oooo, I know this is late but I just want to mention French Cooking in Ten Minutes: Adapting to the Rhythm of Modern Life (1930) (on Amazon). So funny. I still sometimes follow his first bit of advice — when you come home, before you even take off your hat and coat, put a pot of water to boil on the stove and figure out what you want to do with it later.

        1. Mallory*

          . . . put a pot of water to boil on the stove and figure out what you want to do with it later.

          Sounds like good, solid advice to me. Maybe I’ll try it and see if it helps any with my “don’t want to cook” problem.

          On another note, all my Facebook friends are posting all the time about all the fine, gourmet meals they’re cooking at home. I could put up a picture of my beanie-weanies and mac & cheese if I only had the foresight to get some water to boiling right off the bat.

      3. Mallory*

        I got an old cookbook at a garage sale where the “receipts” are written to be adaptable for wood cook stoves as well as “the new electric ranges.” One of the recipes calls for soaking a calve’s head in the kitchen sink. :-0

    3. h*

      I collect old textbooks and cookbooks. Not only are they fun, but I think they serve as a good example of how things change – I mean the original Joy of Cooking is !!!!!

      1. Prickly Pear*

        I have Julia Child’s JC and Company and More Company, because where I grew up, all get-togethers were potluck. In these books, she cooks in whole menus, and it made me start thinking of how a unified, well executed dinner can change things.

  7. Nell*

    #5 – This is actually a thing of mine, at least peripherally; my area of personal interest is popular literature from about 1880-1930, so of course I end up reading a fair amount of non-fic, for a better understanding of the characters are doing what they’re doing.

    Marjorie Hillis’ “Live Alone and Like It” is about being a single woman in a society that tends towards the paired; and “Bubbly on Your Budget” (aka “Orchids on Your Budget”) is all about paying the bills when you’re broke, or close to it. Both talk a lot about social interactions and how to handle uncomfortable situations.

    It’s fascinating to see how much AND how little things have changed.

    1. AVP*

      This is somewhat more recent (originally written in the 1940’s) but if you haven’t read MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf, you have to check it out. It’s sort of a cookbook, but more a series of essays on how to survive a war and feed your family when you have no food/budget/fuel. And entertain guests, of course!

  8. Elkay*

    The silk house suit must not be confused with the velvet jacket that has no trousers to match and is typical of studios and Bohemian quarters.

    Anyone else reading this as a recommendation that the velvet jacket is worn trouser-less? I suppose it would be Bohemian…

    1. Elizabeth*

      No, I hadn’t but man, what an image!

      If you’ve seen the Lord Peter Wimsey series on Masterpiece Mystery, Edward Petherbridge wore one several times. I think they always had him wear a white dress shirt and black dress slacks with it.

      Part of me wishes that we still could dress like that. Another part of me cries at the thought of that much laundry!

  9. NW Cat Lady*

    #3 – Differing times – it could also be that whatever calendar the recruiter is using is set to a different time. So if you’re on the east coast, but her calendar is set for Pacific time, it will show up as 1pm (4pm Eastern time).

    1. Meg Murry*

      Yes, whenever I send a calendar item from my work email (Lotus Notes) to gmail/Google calendar, it always shows up 3 hours early in gmail, even though both calendars are set to EST. Its maddening. For that reason, I always put the time and date in the body of any calendar meeting message I send as well.

    2. Ari*

      This is interesting and insightful. I didn’t think in that direction at all when I asked the question. It’s really helpful, and, Yes, I’m on the east coast so it makes a lot of sense. Thanks.

      1. anon*

        Anyone else remember that encyclopedia brown story where the kid gets fired because the customer was on a different time zone?

    3. Ari*

      It turns out that MY calendar was not set to the right time zone. After I corrected the time zone, the interview time changed to the correct time(4 PM) So, after all, my instincts were right when I decided not to email the recruiter. Thanks for your input.

    4. Vicki*

      I had this happen. The company has branches in several states. The interview was in California. The admin setting it up was in Connecticut.


  10. Question #4*

    Thanks, Alison (and thank you for correcting a typo as well ;))

    Anyway, I guess since I haven’t been asked that ? in my previous interviews (phone and face-to-face), I guess I could’ve prepared better. I have no regrets talking about spending hours of my time learning/improving skills, but volunteering is something I need to do more of.

    Thanks for the input on discussing job search, although I wanted to give the impression that I wasn’t just sitting around, either.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      Hope you find something soon. I rarely ask the how did you spend the time question, because I find it makes candidates uncomfortable, and it’s one of those things that I feel is not any of my business. But I do sometimes ask more focused questions, like “how are you keeping your skills sharp?” I once asked a candidate if they thought about volunteering while they had been out of work. The answer she gave me was that she had no desire to give away her abilities for free. That answer really bugged me for reasons I cannot articulate and I didn’t move forward with her.

      Probably wouldn’t hurt to prepare answers for individual questions like that as well as the overall how you spent your time.

      1. Question #4*

        Thanks for your input as well. Like I said, the question was fine, although I wasn’t used to it. I should mention this one person’s attitude as to not officially working in that time. The primary phone interviewer was pretty understanding (and I thought he was great to talk to), but some other one (there were a total 3 on phone teleconference) seemed to be put off by my answer.

        Everything’s a learning experience, at least!

        1. Ruffingit*

          As Alison suggested, leave off the aggressive job hunting thing for the reasons she stated and also because I tend to think it’s just implied that you’ve been job hunting. If you’re on an interview, clearly you applied for that job so you’re likely applying for others. It’s also something that is more along the lines of what you’d be expected to be doing. It’s like saying “I’m not on drugs!” Well, good, because you shouldn’t be anyway. “I’m job hunting.” Well, good, because you should be…

          Anyway, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for your search. Job hunting is tough as you know, so hang in there!

          1. Trixie*

            I think another thought is while I am officially unemployed, I’m not looking for the first job that will hire me. I’m looking for longterm fit, challenges, stability, etc. A home, not just a paycheck. (Also, the economy is just starting to improve/balance again, much better time to be applying than previously.)

      2. voluptuousfire*

        ^ Thank you for that. I hate answering that question because it seems like they hold the question at a higher weight than they should. It’s kinda like asking a date what they’ve been doing between relationships.

      3. Graciosa*

        I would have wondered if the candidate you mentioned (who had no interest in giving away her abilities for free) would have behaved like a member of a team. The members of mine are willing to help each other out when possible – even if there is no immediate compensation for the effort. The balance for each person of giving and receiving tends to even out over time in a way that doesn’t happen with someone who insists on keeping score.

        1. GrumpyBoss*

          That was one thing I was thinking… “What is going to happen the first time I ask her to do something above and beyond? Stay late? Maybe put in a little bit of time on the weekend to finish a major project? What will happen when a coworker is sick? What will happen when she needs to train a coworker?” So much reading into one statement, but my mind quickly spiraled into this potentially being a “not my job” type of employee.

          1. Graciosa*

            Better than the alternative of ending up with such an employee and kicking yourself because you saw the signs and talked yourself out of paying attention to them!

      4. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I like to ask “what have you been doing since then?” because sometimes you hear stuff that people didn’t put on their resume because it was short-term or not directly relevant but still really interesting (like consulting, or a short-term gig in an unrelated field that demonstrates something impressive, or so forth).

    2. en pointe*

      I think the fact that you’re interviewing with their organisation is evidence enough that you’re not just sitting around. If they thought your resume was strong and they’re phone screening you, their default is probably to assume that you’re applying to more organisations than just them, and are proactive about looking for your next opportunity. Also, an answer that shows you’ve invested time in work growth/volunteering activities will also probably imply that you haven’t been lazy, without you explicitly saying so. Like the ‘show don’t tell’ rule.

      1. Question #4*

        For my field, I’ve really tried to stick to learning new skills (trying to volunteer my existing technical skills is kind of a different animal at this point right now, so I’d rather try to improve those). I certainly will give community volunteering a look in the mean time (even on top of my seasonal summer gig).

        Some really helpful insight from everyone, and I’m glad to at least get that nervous post-interview feelings past me as well. :)

  11. ConstructionHR*

    #1 “She is not the sharpest bulb.”

    Maybe the boss loathes mixed metaphors?

    1. Rebecca*

      I’ve always heard “sharpest tool in the shed” or “brightest bulb in the pack”, along those lines. :)

      1. Poohbear McGriddles*

        I always liked Foghorn Leghorn’s “sharp as a bowling ball”.

        Bowling ball, that is.

    2. Amy B.*

      I was fighting the strong urge to correct that! I think when we judge other people just on the surface of what we think we “know” to be true, we sometimes inadvertently show our less poised self. Perhaps the coworker does not show a depth of intelligence to her comrades but she is being chosen for a reason; and managers often make decisions on qualities others may know nothing about.

      1. Elysian*

        I was also fighting the urge.
        Amy B. is right – feelings of jealousy or resentment can bring out the worst in us and cloud our judgment. The new person might not be familiar with the office yet, but could have other qualities that will eventually make her a good leader. I would agree with AAM’s advice – if this is an opportunity you want, focus your energy on explaining why you’re a good fit, not why the other person is bad at it.

      2. Harper*

        That always happens to me. I think of it as instant karma. Make fun of someone’s shoes? Immediately trip. That sort of thing. :)

    3. Hummingbird*

      Yeah, I saw that, and thought “Game Over!” I’m sorry to say that especially if the OP has legitimate concerns. The OP was very quick to sneak in that comment – whether it is true or not – but lost the message due to the error of mixing metaphors.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        Even if the metaphor hadn’t been mixed, I would learn a lot about that employee who used it. There are so many more articulate and professional ways that a LEADER would use to express concern.

        She may be out of her depth.
        She struggles with making teapots and does not appear to be improving.
        Her learning curve is steeper than the rest of the team’s.

        Each one details frustration with an individual perceived as incompetent in a much more professional way than “not the sharpest tool/brightest bulb”.

        1. A Dispatcher*

          It’s a lot like the fantastic cover letter/resume advice Alison gives. You need to show, not tell. Telling me a coworker is incompetent gives me nothing to go on but an opinion, and a potentially biased one at that.

          It doesn’t help that my father’s favorite phrase is “the whole world is incompetent” which is the response given for anything from making his coffee wrong to if a bridge designer were to mess up calculations and cause a mass casualty situation. It seems a lot of people use the word incompetent very flippantly as he does, so that word lacks all meaning for me at this point if it’s not followed up by concrete examples.

        2. Kelly L.*

          But we’re not all being a LEADER when we write informally on AAM, or trying to be professional. It’s informal writing. And as mentioned below, might have been an intentional “mistake” for humor’s sake, like “it’s not rocket surgery.”

          1. GrumpyBoss*

            Except that in this case, the OP is upset that they aren’t being given leadership opportunities while their boss is out. If it was intended as humor, it was ill placed. She is, after all, trying to state her case on why she should be the one who is in charge and not the coworker who isn’t the “sharpest bulb”.

            1. Tinker*

              Actually, it sounds like to me like they’re asking for advice in how to deal with this person that they perceive as incompetent, not necessarily making a case for their incompetence.

              I think it’s important to keep in mind here that the OP may not have necessarily anticipated that their letter would be picked apart to look for their personal faults or that they needed to fully justify, in a solidly defensible way, the basis of their question — arguably they should have, considering history, but still. It’s not hard to find fault in a thing by judging it according to standards it might have never been intended to meet.

            2. Kelly L.*

              She isn’t trying to state her case to us. She already has a firm opinion on the coworker’s incompetence and isn’t trying to convince us. She’s asking us, if we take as a given that the coworker is incompetent, how should she bring it up with the boss. She’s not asking us, the AAM readership, whether we agree with her that the coworker is incompetent.

              1. LeeGee44*

                I have been reading everyone’s comments and one thing pops in my mind. You never use a comparison between your abilities and another’s as justification for leadership position regardless if it’s short-term or permanent. The LW needs to drop that comparison.

                She needs to approach her supervisor with a concern that it’s not being offered to her; and what does she need to proof herself. (assuming it’s female). She can also look at her prior evaluation and performance plan. Has she made the effort to address any concerns mentioned in the eval and made the effort to meet the goals placed in her performance plan.

                Many times employees are given a performance plan and will focus on parts of it or shove it into a file and forget it until a month before evaluation time.

                There is a reason it’s not being offered to her.

      2. Tinker*

        The structure of deliberately mixing metaphors for ironic effect, particularly in highly informal writing, isn’t exactly rocket surgery.

        1. fposte*

          Heh. And I suspected that to have been the art practiced in this case myself, though I hadn’t heard this particular iteration before.

      1. Polaris*

        No, I read it that way as well, but I think it is because I have heard this exact phrase used many times before and it has always been delivered in a joking tone.

    4. Loose Seal*

      Meh, I use “sharpest bulb” purposefully when speaking out loud among friends, much like I say “rocket surgeon.” I wouldn’t be surprised if it leaked out during written correspondence.

      1. snarkalupagus*

        I say “rocket surgery” on a regular basis and try to mix in “brain science” when that gets repetitive.

  12. A Dispatcher*

    OP, are you sure that Boss’s reasoning that coworker is in a position more like his own isn’t actually pretty good justification? You might both be the same grade but if let’s say you’re a head chocolate teapot designer and she’s a head assembly team lead, it may (in general) make more sense for her to take over the role of teapot production coordinator because her role normally involves more supervision that yours does.

    You said in the past that usually this goes to the most senior person, but what may be different in this situation is that the most senior person is usually in that most similar role, whereas for whatever reason it just happens to be you in this particular division.

    OR – the boss sees positive qualities in her you don’t, or sees negative ones in you that you don’t see (it’s normal to be blind to our own shortcomings). I like Alison’s advice here a lot. It’s the least adversarial way to approach it and may not only give you great feedback on how you could improve, but may give you information that helps you respect your coworker more.

    1. en pointe*

      +1 to your first two paragraphs. OP says the boss’s reasoning is that the coworker is in a “position title like his”. They may be in the same grade, but it sounds like the coworker may be in a more junior version of the boss’s role, in which case it could be quite appropriate that she step up while he’s out. Because the duties are more in line, or they want her to get some more leadership experience if they’re looking to move her into the higher role or an equivalent one down the track, or any number of other reasons.

  13. Suzanne*

    As to #4, I understand why the question would be asked, but I hope employers understand it is a bit more complicated than what they may envision. Volunteering is fine, but some people who have been laid off simply don’t have the money for the gas to get to a volunteer gig on a regular basis (Ex. I live out in the country at least 10 miles from even a gas station. Most organizations that would have volunteering that would keep job skills relevant would be a 30 or 40 mile round trip & gas is $3.99 per gallon). Also, some organizations love you to volunteer, but for the volunteering to be relevant to your job skills, they often want a time frame commitment that you can’t make (ex. special project that will last several months). Or if the job seeker is in a very specific field where there just aren’t many volunteer opportunities.
    I think the OP answered the question well! Good luck!

    1. Steve*

      I had this same sort of situation – there really wasn’t anything directly in my field that I could volunteer for. I didn’t want to make a 70 mile round trip into Atlanta to volunteer for some of the more popular causes since that kind of fuel expense wasn’t feasible without a paycheck. I did a little “paid under the table work” that I would be reluctant to bring up, and a little local volunteering that probably benefitted me more than those I volunteered with. I really felt like talking about any of it during an interview wouldn’t have been impressive, more like just sad.

    2. Ellen Fremedon*

      Money, or spoons. I get much, much more introverted under stress. Conventional wisdom says you should volunteer because it’s a way to meet people, but if I’ve had a phone interview that day or a even had to write a couple of cold emails, meeting *more* people is the last thing I have energy for. Even dealing with casual acquaintances can be too much– the times I’ve made myself go to community band rehearsal after a socially stressful day, I’ve regretted it.

    3. Stephanie*

      Yeah, this is kind of where I’m getting to with volunteering. As the job search goes longer and longer (and my money disappears and disappears), volunteering gets really expensive. I had to dial it back a lot as the 70+ mi round trips were really starting to cost me. Plus, like Suzanne said, it can be hard to find relevant volunteer work for a lot of fields (I’ve have trouble finding anything technical enough).

  14. NonProfiter*

    I don’t know why this bugs me but #4 writing “various software” and various conferences” to mean “several or various kinds of software,” and “several conferences,” just lands oddly/illiterately on the ears. The point of using the word “various” isn’t to indicate number, but kind. I hear it used to mean “multiple” and it sounds weird.

      1. NonProfiter*

        No biggie. It’s just one of those trends I hear in English, like “literally” used to mean “figuratively.” It’s not wrong because we can’t use our own language incorrectly, it’s just . . . not how we’ve used those words in the past.

        1. Artemesia*

          I read various software here to mean ‘varied’ i.e. several different kinds. I would be inclined though to be more specific as in I learned Ruby on Rails and Whatever to add to my current expertise in WordPress and Thisnthat.

  15. One of the Annes*

    I love the Miss Manners advice column–or used to love it. It’s really gone downhill since Miss Manners’ kids started writing the answers. They lack her judgment and wit.

      1. en pointe*

        Not exclusively. It’s her and both her kids now and they all sign off as her. I can’t pick the differences, to be honest.

        1. John*

          I love Miss Manners (ack, I typed Miss Managers, who is AAM), especially her sharp reactions to writers who think they’ve happened upon a classy way to ask their wedding guests to give them cash and seek Miss Manners’ approval (never!).

          Haven’t read her for a while so just accessed some recent columns and I do have to say that they are a bit flat. I’m not finding the same wit.

          1. Stephanie*

            I get cash gifts are gauche, but I’d be more comfortable giving cash in some instances! My friend got married and had this wedding registry at Williams-Sonoma and doesn’t cook very much (neither does her now husband). I bought the gift off the registry like “She’s never going to use this…”

            1. Vancouver Reader*

              Depends on the culture, some are quite fine with cash as wedding gifts. I joke that my husband married me because our culture is to give cash or gold and that beats getting 3 toasters.

      2. Jazzy Red*

        Dear Abby is written by her daughter, Ann Landers is written by her former assistants, and Ann’s daughter Margo Howard has her own column. I like Margo best.

    1. Kelly O*

      I miss the Etiquette Grrls. I have both their books and used to love the blog, even if it tended to be a bit New England WASP. It was a fun read for a Southern girl with no real need for train etiquette.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I’ll have to check that out.

        I just got something for red carpet etiquette–that should be interesting, though I doubt I’ll ever need it. (But you never know)

      2. Kelly L.*

        Me too! I still employ Random Capitalization far more often than I should. They didn’t live in my world at all, but they were fun and did give me some useful pointers here and there.

        1. Kelly O*

          I am a huge fan of Random Capitalization, but I try to be careful about it (especially these days…)

          I also loved A Very Boozy (Insert Holiday Here) – before we had our daughter, if we were home just us on a holiday, I would make it an Official Very Boozy Whatever and invite friends. Good times.

      3. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

        The website Ask Miss Abigail is also a good source for old advice.

  16. Allison*

    I made the same mistake OP 1 did; when a co-worker was getting more responsibilities, I focused on the fact that I’d been there longer when asking why the manager picked her over me. In all honesty experience has something to do with it, but in hindsight I should’ve more clearly framed it as a concern about my own professional development. In other words, inquire as to why I’m not advancing rather than inadvertently imply that *she* didn’t deserve to advance.

    It can definitely be frustrating to be with a company for so long, only to see someone new come right in and seem to suddenly advance ahead of you. It happens all the time, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for not so great reasons, but it’s hard not to at least wonder why it’s happening.

    1. Celeste*

      The newer coworker might be better liked because of personality or attitude, or might do things in a way that really pleases the manager. Maybe she is just really beautiful; that sometimes works to enchant people. Not saying it’s right, just saying beauty opens doors.

      It might also be an interpersonal issue such that the supervisor feels threatened by the OP, but doesn’t feel that way with the newer coworker. I’m not sure that somebody will always answer when the reasons are any of these, but I’m throwing them out there as food for thought in case the request to cover the spot is eventually denied.

      1. Allison*

        Sad but true, I hate to pin stuff like this on looks or likeability especially when I don’t know the whole story, it sounds like I’m unfairly accusing someone of being biased or making excuses for performance issues, but it’s definitely possible.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s possible, but I’d avoid jumping to that when there are so many more likely explanations — difference in skills/approach/rapport with the manager.

  17. LQ*

    I wonder if by your phrasing you aren’t in a union environment? (If not this likely won’t apply.)

    Often unions have specific rules about who can replace someone when they are out, based not just on grade but title. Your boss might be required to have your coworker step in because of a tiny difference in title (or be required to go through a tremendous amount of paperwork to have you take that role instead).

    You may also have requirements of things like if your coworker already has the ability to approve payroll then specific access wouldn’t need to be granted to do that in times of leave which would make it significantly easier for everyone.

    Either of these your boss may have said because they have the same title.

    1. Dragonfly*

      I was thinking union environment for the opposite reason; the OP is focused on seniority as if that’s important, and not taking into account the other person’s skill set and what they bring to the table.

      I work in a union environment, and when layoffs came around I was surprised by one coworker who thought it wasn’t “fair” that another coworker was laid off, even though he had seniority over two others who were retained.

      I pointed out that the senior who got the ax had one skill only, whereas the two juniors were more versatile. In a pinch, they could do the senior’s task as well as he could, plus another task which he couldn’t. The senior could only do one task. Their dept. head was sensible enough to value the juniors’ versatility, especially since our company is moving to using those secondary skills more and more.

      The OP should focus on her own skills and look at the core mission of the company. She should look at how her own skills are useful for that mission. That needs to be her mentality, especially if the situation is what some have suggested, that the other coworker is more aligned with the boss’s skill set. She should get out of the mindset that length of time in the chair matters more than what she does in that chair.

  18. AnotherAlison*

    #2 – salary range

    Is it typical to list desired salary ranges in a cover letter? I never have. It feels like by this candidate doing it, she’s pointing out that while she’s interested in the position, she’s more expensive than what you have listed. Whenever I’ve had to go through an online application system and give my range, I assume they wouldn’t call me and waste my time unless my range was acceptable, but this is when they don’t post a salary. I’ve never intentionally applied to something with a lower salary band than what I was looking for.

    1. Ethyl*

      I thought that was weird but some places request it as part of your cover letter or resume. OTOH if they listed the salary range in the posting then maybe it was either a sneaky message OR a leftover from a different posting(!).

      I once applied to a really great-sounding job with no salary range posted only to find once I was on the phone interview that they hoped to pay a mid-career professional with a MS degree doing a pretty high-level job an entry-level rate that was actually lower than my entry-level pay grade nine years ago in a much cheaper part of the country. I wish job posters would put the salary range in the ad — it would save so much time!

    2. Felicia*

      I don’t like listing my salary range in my cover letter, but it’s seemed fairly common to me to see job postings that ask you to put your salary range in your cover letter. So I only do it when it’s specifically asked for, which is quite frequent , but I still don’t like it. And usually when it’s specifically asked for, they don’t put the salary range in teh job posting

      1. en pointe*

        Mmm yeah, it’s possible that salary range is just in her cover letter because she’s been using it to apply to jobs which requested her to include one. OP, did her cover letter seem customised or fairly generic?

        Either way, it doesn’t really explain why she’s applying to a job so far below her range. But if she’s currently unemployed, or in a job she really hates, or your job has some incentive to her in terms of hours or location or whatever, she could be willing to accept something lower. If that’s the case, the $55-60k could just be her ideal, or what she’d be willing to accept for some other job and not THIS job.

        1. fposte*

          Then that’s a big mistake in a candidacy that would likely get her cut in the first round for me. If she hasn’t noticed the discrepancy or hasn’t contextualized the mention of the salary, she’s asking me to to the candidate’s work, which isn’t a good sign.

        2. J*

          OP here. The cover letter was a bit generic and admittedly, not the best I’ve seen. I wasn’t sure if it was her not paying attention to detail or stating in a passive aggressive way to only contact if this salary range is okay.

          According to her resume, she is currently unemployed and was in her last position for four years. That organization is currently looking to fill that position. It makes me wonder why she left.

          I do still want to talk to her since she seems to work with similar organizations and have the skill set I’m looking for, and that hasn’t been very common among the applicants so far.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I still see candidates doing it unprompted sometimes … but they’re never the strongest candidates. That’s going on my list of “markers that aren’t deal-breakers on their own but are always a sign you’re a weaker candidate.”

  19. Elkay*

    I’d be interested to know who used to cover for OP#1’s boss before the new employee arrived. It seems odd to suddenly be allowing a subordinate to cover if they didn’t before. Maybe there’s a particular task new employee does that makes them more suitable to cover.

  20. Angora*

    Ref: A job candidate’s desired salary is far outside our posted range

    You can the applicant up and inform them that you are interested in interviewing them but you noticed that their desired salary is above your range. Clearly state what the range your office is willing to pay and ask if they are still interested in interviewing. Also document that phone call. If this situation it’s best to call versus e-mail. That’s my opinion. I think we rely on e-mail a bit too much during the interview process and it lacks the personal touch. You can get a better read.

    If you call and get their voicemail; ask them to call you back regarding the application. Do not leave this msg on voicemail. Than follow-up with an e-mail stating you left a message on their voice mail and that you hve a ? regarding their voicemail. Could they please call you by date/time (give them until the next business day atleast to reply). I turn my cell off at work and check it at lunch most of the time; but not always. Many people work in environments that frown on cell phone use because it’s perceived as doing personal business during working hours. If people are working as contractors and/or temps it’s part of the job restriction …. no cell phone use while on assignment … period.

    If they do not respond; than you can drop it. If they call you back; tell them what I said above. I got so used to placing this phone call with my former boss. My department paid about 10 – 15% less than the other divisions and we lost out of some excellent applicants. But also got a couple of applicants that were willing to take a pay cut or a salary freeze for so few years to transfer out of their current position in the organization.

      1. LeeGee44*

        You pay be right. I worked as a temp / contractor for a year and everything was e-mail. My staffing specialist would never pick up the phone. I have developed a preference for phone calls because of this. If they answer; you can tell more about the tone of voice; their reaction to the ? that you will not receive in e-mail.

  21. Who are you??*

    #5: I collect old etiquette books myself. I love them. And I once was able to use several Emily Post books to stop my mother-in-law in her tracks. It was great. My MIL and I have a relationship based on an extreme dislike for one another and love for the same man (her son, my husband). Soon after we were married and started a family she became ridiculously intrusive. She told my husband that for generations MIL’s were allowed to set the guidelines for their children’s new homes. (Oh there was more, but for the sake of time and my blood pressure, I’ll leave it at that). My husband had recently gotten me several old etiquette books dating back to the early 1900’s. On his own, he checked the books for truth of his mother’s statement. Emily Post (among others) was very clear about how MIL’s should take a hands off approach to their children’s marriages. He photocopied the information and gave her the pages with a comment about how he wasn’t sure where she got her info, but he was going to go by the generations that came before him and the books they read. She wasn’t happy but I was so ridiculously proud of him!

    1. AVP*

      Wow! Just because I’m curious (nosy), what kind of guidelines was she trying to set? Where you were to live, or what kind of couch you would have? How many bedrooms? Dying to know.

      And I LOVE that you were able to shut it down with some good old Emily Post. She knows everything.

      1. Who are you??*

        We lived about 100 miles away from her, she wanted us to live in the same town. She wanted to quit her job and be our daycare, I wanted anything but that (and let me mention that I hadn’t even gotten pregnant at this point!). She hates the way my husband and I communicate with each other about everything, the way I decorate, the way our kids are raised and on and on and on. She has an opinion about everything we do and her opinion is that our way is wrong and that she alone knows the right way. I’d like to say that the advice and intrusion stopped after being presented with the photocopied pages, but I’d be a liar. What did change is her way of arguing. No longer could she tell us that generations of married people let their MIL’s rule the roost. She knew that we knew the truth. Now she tries to use crocodile tears and emotional manipulation. I could tell you stories…but that’s a post for a different kind of board. LOL!

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Wow. That’s not an etiquette problem; that’s a MIL problem. Kudos to your husband for standing up to her. My biggest nightmare is ending up with a Ray Barone.

        2. Vancouver Reader*

          Tell me you have a blog where you write about these things! I’ve been reading The Gold Digger’s blog and it sounds like the two of you can get together and commiserate.

    2. Artemesia*

      How incredibly sad that a son would have to defend his and his wife’s right to manage their own household. But great that Emily Post got there early with the goods. Wow.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      MIL may not be so great, but her son is awesome. I am so impressed with his creative response to her behavior.

  22. Bend & Snap*

    I’m always kind of mystified that people think seniority in the business should mean anything. The fact that someone didn’t quit or get fired for a longer duration than anyone else doesn’t mean they’re equipped to lead or deserve special recognition.

    Newcomers with the right skill set and leadership style can be far more impactful than a lifer, if it’s the right fit.

    Recognition and opportunities should be about potential and performance, not time in the seat.

    1. A Dispatcher*

      Based on the fact that #1 used the term job grades, it’s not a stretch to think that they are probably in some sort of public sector or union job, and in those types of jobs unfortunately things like “fairness” and seniority do often (unfortunately) trump merit. Since it sounds like OP has been there for 20 years, they are probably really used to things working that way.

      1. doreen*

        And being in a public sector union environment, I know that it’s quite common to for people in that environment to think seniority trumps merit even when it actually doesn’t. There are a lot of situations where seniority trumps merit at my job, but they tend to be related to layoffs, transfers, vacations and certain work assignments all within the same title. There are lots of other issues where seniority doesn’t trump merit- who is sent to voluntary training, who covers for me when I’m out, special assignments, promotions. It’s not at all uncommon for people to mistakenly believe that everything is based on seniority.

    2. Joey*

      dont completely discount seniority. institutional knowledge can be hugely valuable and its not unfathomable for people with that seniority to believe it should be the most important factor.

      1. LQ*

        I think institutional knowledge is SUPER IMPORTANT but also different from seniority. Some people are really aware and gain a lot of institutional knowledge, but not everyone does. I have someone at my current org who has been here nearly 40 years but is completely unaware of the organizational politics, the history, the changes, the systems, which break room was the best, anything… Does ok at the specific task assigned but really doesn’t have the understanding of even the job and how it fits in or the way it works. I wish a lot of organizations put more stock into institutional knowledge which can be really powerful.

        1. Artemesia*

          As they say in the public school world — does she have 20 years of experience or one year of experience 20 times. Anyone who leads with ‘seniority’ except in a legalistic sense in a union environment is projecting weakness. If the fact that you couldn’t get a better job for 20 years is your best card, you are not playing with a good hand.

            1. LQ*

              Absolutely, and then the conversation should be about the mastery of the job because that’s really impressive.

            2. Artemesia*

              As does teaching. But then the emphasis is on expertise not time served. ‘Time server’ is after all a cliche for a reason.

        2. LeeGee44*

          I like how they do it with state jobs … you want a promotion you put in for it and interview with the other applicants.

          Sometimes they’ll limit the applicants to internal applicants only. But it’s the best process … most of the time. Unless you boss likes hiring students wives to help out the student’s financial situation vs. whose a better fit.

          But not all hiring managers and/or committees make good decisions.

          1. Angora*

            I have to reset my name … when I change from cell to laptop; it picks up a different one. Think I got it fixed.

      2. Bend & Snap*

        I’m not discounting it at all–I’m saying it shouldn’t be the leading factor in awarding opportunity or making decisions.

    3. GrumpyBoss*

      The most dysfunctional company I’ve ever worked at put a lot of emphasis on seniority. Seniority was rarely used as a factor for getting promoted, but the opposite happened: seniority was used to prevent low performers from being put on a plan, laid off, etc. It was extremely frustrating. As a result, I have a bit of a bias against people who use it as their key strength. It helps with tribal knowledge, how to navigate relationships and build consensus within a particular culture, and probably some job specific tasks. But beyond that, I’m much more interested in what an employee does day to day that differentiates them. I don’t care if they’ve been in the job for 15 years or 15 minutes.

    4. Mike C.*

      Seniority is a great way to to break a tie – some credit should be given to employees who don’t constantly move around, who have shown their current employer loyalty and have that bank of institutional knowledge.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        I agree that it can be a discriminator when everything else is equal. In OP #1 though, it isn’t equal. The Boss has clearly stated to the OP that the other employee was in a position title like his. That implies previous leadership experience, not merely classes. It then becomes the very subjective evaluation of apples Vs oranges. If the new employee has the skill set that the boss values the most then the new employee will get the job.

        1. Angora*

          I wonder if there is a company policy that requires to have particular job titles in order to have a leadership role. Didn’t ATM mention something about asking if she needs to be in a different career track in order to be considered for leadership responsibilities. Also … does her manager know she’s working on leadership skills? Telling them verbally doesn’t always work. Sometimes a copy of a transcript to your manager and HR for your personal file is required.

          Sometimes it’s HR … your manager may know … but if it’s not made it into your file; than it’s not known or part of the evaluation process.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I think seniority should get counted in as a factor but not as the total consideration in promotion.
      All the institutional knowledge in the world is useless if the person does not share it.
      Likewise, if you get a person who collects up knowledge and uses it in the wrong way. (“I wanted Jane to get the promotion, so I reminded Ed of the affair he had with Tracy 14 years ago. After that, Ed agreed to promote Jane.”)

      OMG. Get me out of this place.

  23. Joey*

    #1. So your boss is getting a colleague who’s at a similar level in the organization to cover and you’re questioning his judgement. And of course the solution is to put you in charge.

    Instead of telling your boss he doesn’t know what he’s doing why not show him you’re better equipped to cover by solving or proposing solutions to the incompetent decisions the colleague is making. This will go a lot further than saying you “deserve” it because you’re next in line.

  24. en pointe*

    #2 – It’s possible your applicant did completely overlook the salary in the ad, but it’s also possible that she noted her and your ranges weren’t compatible and applied anyway, in the hope that you might be flexible.

    If so, she may be assuming you just won’t contact her if there’s no way you’d go up to her range, and alternatively, if you move her forward, she may assume that HER range isn’t prohibitive for YOU. I would definitely follow Alison’s advice and clarify that she’s okay with your salary range before investing any more time in her as a candidate.

    1. Artemesia*

      I hired for years in a department that wanted champagne candidates on a beer budget. And the kind of academic background we looked for traditionally paid a lot more than we could offer. We just made it very clear and were aware that we were asking a lot; our hope was we could attract second career people for whom the job had appeal and the salary was less critical like retired military with the appropriate credentials who had a pension or early retired corporate people who had fat retirement packages and the right credentials but were not ready to hang it up.

      We would often get great candidates who didn’t believe our numbers and thought for their greatness we could be flexible. If I was interested in them, I just talked to them about what our limits were (we might be able to get 5K above our range, but not more than that and that wasn’t assured) Many simply withdrew. A few hung in there.

  25. Brett*

    #1 You have to ignore pay grade in these situations. Title is much more significant. I am the exact same pay grade as my boss and we are a pay grade higher than everyone else in this office.
    But I am 4th in line to be in charge of the office when he is gone. My title is not a supervisory title. The other worker’s do have supervisory titles and they are in the same position series as my boss. I am in my own position series that is outside of theirs. So even though I have the higher grade, it is not appropriate for me to be in charge because my title does not align with a supervisory role.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      I personally am much happier when I’m at a company that keeps the grades/bands private and operates solely on title. So much posturing and positioning takes place when people think they have two vectors (grade and title) to gain.

    2. Joey*

      I don’t even thing title is that significant. I should be able to very well pick whomever I feel is the best equipped regardless of title to hold down the fort. Obviously, starting with the folks who already have a lot of responsibility is a good place to start, but as long as I can articulate a job related reason why that person is best equipped nothing else matters. It might hurt some feelings, but thats where a good personal improvement discussion is needed.

      1. Brett*

        Very true too. I was mostly emphasizing how pay grade has little to do with who takes on supervisory responsibilities.

  26. JMegan*

    #5 – I’m a big fan of the “Ought to Know” series (1913 and thereabouts.) There are eight:

    What a Young Girl Ought to Know
    What a Young Woman…
    What a Young Wife…
    What a Woman of 45…

    Plus the corresponding books for men as well. I’m turning 40 this year, so I suppose I should start reading up on what I “Ought to Know” in five years or so!

  27. Katie the Fed*

    #1 – instead of saying something, why don’t you try ASKING the boss? “I’m interested in taking on more of a leadership role? WOuld you consider leaving me in charge in your absence? No? What would I need to do to show you that I’m ready to handle it?”

    This isn’t really about your coworker – this is about your boss not putting you in positions of increasing responsibility and you need to figure out why that is and how you can correct it.

  28. K Anon Y*

    +1 on Miss Manners. The great thing about Miss Manners from the Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior era is that her advice is not excruciating at all! It’s filled with humor and common sense and empathy. I’m a fan.

    1. Artemesia*

      It is great reading for kids. My daughter learned so much about dealing with other people that served her well not only socially but on the job. MM is great at suggesting ways to hold one’s ground (none of which involve weapons) and to be assertive as well as kind. And she read it because it was fun to read.

  29. MinB*

    #3 – Contact the company! This just happened with my organization. Turns out the candidate who received the calendar invitation for an interview had her Google calendar set to a different time zone. It’s an honest mistake and I’m glad she asked so it didn’t cost her her chance.

  30. Graciosa*

    There have been a lot of posts offering advice based on some assumptions (which might or might not be valid) about the situation with respect to OP#1. I thought it might be interesting to change them up a bit just in case that’s appropriate.

    What if OP#1 is highly competent with great leadership potential, the co-worker is a complete dunderhead, and the boss is an idiot?

    If that’s the case, Alison’s approach still works just fine, although I would add that the OP may need to make some decisions about his or her future with the company. The first thing to do is make sure that there are no issues that need to be addressed – but once that has been done, the OP may still be caught in a situation of limited or no opportunity for growth. Then the choice becomes whether to accept the current situation as it is – and cheerfully – or find another opportunity where the OP can be the new person who is highly regarded in a different environment. It may not be an easy choice after a couple decades (or long overdue?) but it is an option.

    There can be a fine line between the appearance of justifiable frustration from a highly competent long term employee who is being overlooked and arrogant entitlement of someone who mistakenly believes themselves more competent than they truly are. It’s not always easy for outsiders to judge this – especially from a fairly short note – and I wanted to offer some thoughts on the former possibility as the latter seems to have been covered already.

    1. Laura2*

      It’s also possible (just to continue with the idea that the OP’s frustration has some merit) that the boss is not an idiot and the coworker IS less competent, but that the boss knows this and appoints the coworker as acting manager because it’s job security (this only works if the boss isn’t great at their job but is still smart enough to know that). If things run slightly less well, but not so poorly that the boss’s judgment in temporary replacements would be questioned, when Boss isn’t there, it’s obvious to management that Boss is necessary to run the team well.

  31. NavyLT*

    #1, I wonder if the coworker might be “incompetent” because she’s new and still figuring things out. I’ve found it usually takes about six months to really settle in and know what you’re doing in a new job.

    I’d also add that leadership courses don’t actually teach anyone how to be a leader.

  32. AMT*

    I’m envisioning the letter from #1’s coworker:

    “Dear AAM: My boss puts me in charge when he’s out because my coworker with 20 years’ experience isn’t competent enough to run the office. S/he’s always bugging my boss about giving these duties to him/her. He’s too nice to tell him/her that it’s a performance issue, and instead mumbles something about similar titles when she complains. I’m new and don’t know my way around yet, so s/he picks on every little mistake I make and constantly undermines me. What do I do?”

    I may be reading too much into it, but a few things stuck out:

    – The use of the word “deserve”
    – Taking leadership classes and assuming that this automatically confers good leadership skills
    – Saying that a brand new person is incompetent and stupid (multiple times in the letter!) without giving her a chance to get oriented
    – Not realizing that there could be other reasons for her boss’ decision (e.g. giving the new person previously-agreed-upon management experience)
    – Not reflecting on her own skills as a potential factor
    – Projecting her discontent with her boss onto her coworker, who isn’t at fault
    – Approaching the situation in an adversarial way

    This sounds like the type of employee who sparks endless AAM letters with their obsession with seniority and credentials over performance. And people wonder why younger employees don’t have any company loyalty!

    1. AMT*

      I wish I could edit — I tried to insert gender-neutral pronouns, but didn’t do it throughout the post. I don’t know why I assumed the letter-writer was female, but I do it a lot, probably because Alison is a woman.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        Don’t worry about that. I think we’ve all gone overboard on being politically correct, and it’s time to forget some of it (like gender neutral pronouns, NOT like offensive ethnic wash-your-mouth-out-with-soap words).

    2. GrumpyBoss*

      So much awesome in this comment. The very first thing that came to my mind when I read #1 is that she is struggling with handling adversity. Now I could give her the benefit of the doubt that she was using AAM as an outlet to vent and this isn’t how she carries herself in the workplace, but we have to go on what we see. When a boss is looking at people to cover while he’s out, who can blame him for not going to the person who seems to cry “not fair” when she doesn’t get her way and then starts name calling coworkers?

      Not this boss. That’s the sort of employee that if they covered for me for 1 day, I’d need to spend 2 days cleaning up after.

  33. Observer*

    Good points. But, one thing is for sure – the arguments that the LW offers for being put in charge don’t make a case for being especially good at the job or at leadership. “I took classes in leadership” is about as lame as you can get in this context.

    1. Artemesia*

      I’ve taught classes in leadership and I couldn’t agree more. The only way this works is something like ‘I have been taking classes in leadership and would like to work on developing those skills in practice.’

  34. Allison*

    #2, it’s not uncommon for someone to apply for a job that’s not quite what they’re looking for (onsite when they want to work remotely, pays less than what they want to make, full-time when they want a part-time role, etc.) hoping the employer will see how great they are and adjust the position to suit the candidate’s needs. In this case, the candidate may be hoping you’ll be willing to pay more if you really like them. So definitely tell the candidate you’re interested in them but are not able to pay more than the posted range.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I don’t think it’s uncommon, but I don’t think candidates usually advertise to the employer how the job *does not* fit what they are looking for.

  35. JustMe*

    #1 – I assume your boss is good at his job otherwise your letter would have a totally different content. That said, I think he’s making a judgment call based on what he knows and sees. The content of your letter make you appear to be a bitter betty. It really is not about how long you’ve been at a company, nor how quickly you get your job done. Management is about people and getting people to get things done…amount other things. Perhaps your manager these type qualities in your coworker.

    I totally understand your annoyance though. I’ve been there! I just tell myself that if the door doesn’t open for me, I wasn’t meant to walk through it.

  36. Nichole*

    I found OP1’s letter (and the comments) interesting, but think I lack some context. Is it typical for someone to be formally “in charge” when the boss is out? I’ve had jobs where the next in line takes the lead when the boss is out, but never one where “in charge” was a position up for negotiation rather than a result of an actual promotion to a mid level. I have a small department, but when our boss is out, we’re all kind of in charge of ourselves and whoever’s available takes care of issues that are usually handled by the boss but don’t necessarily need to wait for her to return. In relation to the letter, I guess my question is why it’s of value to the OP to be in charge? Not trying to indicate that it’s not important, I just want to know what about this type of situation makes being in charge worth asking for.

    1. fposte*

      I think it’s not universal, but there are definitely offices that pay attention to such things, as witness Brett’s post wherein he notes that he’s fourth in line to be in charge, which is a degree of rank sensitivity that would baffle people in my workplace (and I’m not private sector either). Presumably the OP is in such an office.

      1. Brett*

        Yeah, the formality of our process would be baffling to most people. When a supervisor is going to be out of the office, they have to file a personnel order directing who is serving in their role while they are out. And if that person is going to be out any of those days, then an additional personnel order is filed indicating who will cover for them.

        Every week, the order for the week comes out detailing all of these for every single supervisor position who is on vacation, away at training, on medical leave, on limited duty, etc.

        We actually have safety-critical situations where we have to assemble ad-hoc command structures with formal chain of command out of the personnel immediately available. So, having such a formal order pre-defined saves a lot of time in those situations.

        1. fposte*

          I think safety fields are a lot likelier to do this, and I suspect that anything with some military overlap falls pretty naturally into the pattern anyway.

    2. Jamie*

      I think it is in some offices – not in mine. We all have our wheelhouses and when the boss is gone we take over whatever makes sense for us in our role.

      There are, however, only a few of us with keys to lock the office so it’s like a game of musical chairs about who has to stay and lock up.

      This letter reminded me of a former boss at a temp job who refused to put Sally in charge of something. He made an offhand comment about how her wanting it too much was weird since it wasn’t a big deal except to her.

      I’m not saying the OP is like that, but some bosses do give the side-eye to people wanting ‘power’ to a degree that’s disproportionate to the situation.

      Like the person who gets super upset because they don’t get the code to the supply room and has to ask reception for their office supplies. Irritating, sure, but when they make a huge deal about it and what that means…it ends up meaning no one will ever give you the code because you care way too much about it and it make people wonder why you need it so badly.

      Personally I’ve found the way to get put in charge of stuff is to not want to be in charge of it. I’m always having to oversee things I want nothing to do with. Careful what you wish for.

    3. KJ*

      It really depends on the work environment. I never had such a thing in my earlier office jobs. Now I work in a library, and our day-to-day work includes opening and closing a building, lots of people working different shifts, and the usual safety concerns of a public place. We have an official “in charge” order to make sure everyone knows who is the point person at any given moment so that incidents and emergencies can be handled appropriately.

  37. LD*

    #1 – Your inquiry sounds very subjective to me because you never really listed reasons why your co-worker is incompetent or what she does/doesn’t do that makes it seem like she “cannot even do her job”.

    Nevertheless, I agree with Alison that you should be focusing more on how YOU can be considered for the role, and actually having a discussion with your manager about how you can better yourself, instead of thinking that your co-worker doesn’t deserve it.

  38. Not So NewReader*

    For OP 1: I had a situation once where a newer coworker was given a cushy task that was key in our organization.

    I thought that was odd, since we were union and I had seniority.

    Oh, well, I figured similar stuff, different day.

    Time passed and I watched this coworker get lambasted, fried, barbecued and filleted. She could do nothing right for the bosses. Her workload was incredible. The situation just kept getting worse and worse. It was so painful to watch.

    I just kept going with my own stuff. Doing my best every day. I fixed a few headbanging problems that no one else fixed. I came up with a few solutions for other problems and I made suggestions that turned out to be really good ideas for our department.
    (Notice it was no one single thing.)

    Sure enough. One day I walk in and I was told that I am taking over the cushy job. By that time, I was convinced I would be placed on a rotisserie, I really did not want the job any more.

    My experience was very different from my coworker’s experience. The group I was with excelled wildly beyond expectation. (Sorry, I can’t explain that. Productivity doubled, at least.)

    I wondered later,if my bosses wanted to make my coworker shut up, or burn her out or had another hidden agenda. Maybe tptb ordered my coworker to be placed in that position and then changed their minds. Or perhaps they felt they needed me more where I was at, therefore did not move me over the first time.

    I never will know why she was picked and why they finally moved me over.
    My secondary point, OP, is that there maybe a turn of events and you, too, could decide that you are glad you do not have that supposedly desirable position.
    Do your best every day.
    As someone else said above, be a great supporter. Make yourself into a go-to person.
    And let nature run its course.

  39. Tara T.*

    In answer to #4, I have read that part of the reason employers ask what someone was doing between jobs is to find out if they started a short-term job that did not work out, and did not put it on the resume. Of course, if that is the case, there is no need to mention it. Just talk about volunteer work, temp jobs, or other positive activities and qualifications.

    1. Question #4*

      Thanks. I didn’t have work between my last job, and my seasonal gig (starting soon). I just talked about trying use these free tutorials/learning programming/and doing a variety of software exercises to keep my technical skills sharp (those actually have been a chunk of my day, aside from applying)

  40. Kerry*

    While this is late, the OP in letter 1 comes off as arrogant and entitled–two qualities that, even if the other coworker is not the best in hard skills, the employer probably would not want in charge. Maybe the other coworker is more supervisory material–able to be approached, works with others, etc.The way the letter reads, LW1 doesn’t sound very approachable.

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